Environment & Strategic Planning Cabinet Member – Minutes – 14 January 2021

MANAGING ROAD VERGES FOR WILDLIFE – The Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director: Commercial and Director: Business Development submitted a joint report seeking approval to manage road verges to benefit wildflowers and declare Roadside Nature Reserves, and to explore the use of road verge cuttings in local anaerobic digesters.

In Lincolnshire, 99.7% of unimproved or flower-rich grassland had been lost since 1938. Road verges could be some of the most important remaining refuges for wildflowers and were used by butterflies and other pollinating insects. Wide drove road verges were a feature of the Lincolnshire Wolds area of high landscape value in particular.

Sadly, road verges faced threats of their own. Wildflowers may be lost when verges were cut too often or too little. When grass cuttings were left to rot down, wildflowers could be smothered and pushed aside by nettles and hogweed. Road works, trenching for pipes and cables and rutting due to vehicles could all cause physical damage. Road salt, fly tipping and passing traffic could cause pollution and an excess of nutrients.

Through Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s “Life on the Verge” project, local volunteers and expert botanists worked together to survey many miles of road verge for wildflowers. The best sections were then selected as Local Wildlife Sites (LWS). Some of the LWS were connected by verges of more moderate value, forming a habitat network.

To benefit wildflowers, the best verges should be managed with a traditional hay cut. This allowed grasses and flowers to grow through the summer until mid-August or September. The grass was then cut and cuttings removed. However, the collection of cuttings added time and expense.

In Lincolnshire, some of the best road verges for wildflowers were declared as Roadside Nature Reserves. They were managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council.

Pilot projects had successfully demonstrated that road verge cuttings could be used as a feedstock for anaerobic digesters (AD). They showed that the use of road verge cuttings could be economically beneficial for AD operators, leading to an increase in methane yield and releasing land to grow crops. The Biorenewables Development Centre in York allowed AD operators to test road verge feedstocks in laboratory conditions, without impacting on the smooth operation of their existing plants.

Resolved – (a) That the proposal to introduce hay cutting to Local Wildlife Site road verges as part of a wider review of road verge management, including the consideration of anaerobic digestion of verge cuttings be approved; (b) that Roadside Local Nature reserves, as set out in Appendix 2 to the report, be designated, and (c) that the proposal to sow UK origin wildflowers in a small number of appropriate gateway locations be approved.